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Tattoos: Between the Tribal and the Universal

Yasmine Bergner

During the last few years, scholars from various fields have begun to

recognize the social, political, and ritual significances reflected in the

tradition of tattooing the body. This tradition incorporates different

aspects of the private and public identity, which are a part of a given social



The inked body seems to offer us the most ancient testimony of

the use of the human body as a tool to glorify the individual and fashion

a social identity. The art of tattooing can be traced back to ancient native

traditions, in which it constituted an inseparable part of initiation rituals

and rites of passage. Throughout history, the practice of tattooing has

fulfilled different functions. It glorified the human body, marked a person’s

social affiliation and status, played a part in religious rituals, and was used

to heal the body and soul. The body, through the variety of symbols etched

upon it, embodied personal, social, ecological, and metaphysical values.

The social practice of tattooing the body not only constitutes an integral

part of our everyday life, but is also deeply entrenched in our primordial

memory. It seems that the tattooed body has always defined various

conceptualizations regarding human existence.


In general, the native language of tattooing is man’s tribute to nature

and the world, to corporeal and spiritual phenomena. Members of the

group, and among them the tattoo artist, conceptualize of the powers

of creation through visual archetypes. The tattoo artist, then, identifies

the fundamental forms around him, and translates them, in a process of

stylization and abstraction, into tattoo patterns, which are then passed on

fromgeneration to generation. The bold and complex symbols and designs,

along with the words and actions of the tattoo artist (who uses a repertoire

Yasmine Bergner

, curator of the present exhibition, is a spiritual guide through the art of

tattooing, multidisciplinary artist, and researcher.